“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” inspired me to declutter my entire house in a truly life-changing way. Beginning with clothes, then books, paper and miscellaneous items, I went through my entire household piece by piece to ask my self what author Marie Kondo says is the only criteria for deciding what to keep in your home, “Does it spark joy?”
While it sounds too simple to actually work, I quickly realized the KonMari method is genius and I found the magic almost instantly. Before I knew it, truckloads of belongings that had served their purpose and no longer brought me joy were exiting my home, leaving behind only the things I truly loved and a much tidier space.
The only snag in my KonMari festival was dealing with my children’s things. Kondo advises us to focus only on our own things, but as a mom and the CEO of my household, I consider much of our community property and all of my children’s belongings under my reign. Though my children are both young, my almost-four-year-old already has strong opinions and an attachment to her things.
I was willing to declutter in the spirit of the KonMari method by following the order of categories, but I knew that since I would be working as a collaborative team with my children, I’d have to modify the approach. Since “joy” is a difficult concept to communicate to children, I needed a few more concrete boundaries to help guide our decluttering.
When I set out to declutter toys, I began with the basic question of “Does it spark joy?” but I incorporated some guiding principles from another favorite book “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier Kids” to set guidelines on what types of toys we should keep and what type we should discard.
Although I didn’t have a problem downsizing my own book collection to just a handful of books, the thought of getting rid of even a single children’s book made me sweat.
It’s almost sacrilegious to discard any book, and that sentiment is magnified when it comes to children’s books. I felt as if removing books from my home was tearing away pieces of the life I had worked so hard to create for my children and the chance at a bright future that only education, knowledge and books could deliver.
Overflowing shelves of children’s books have become a status symbol for today’s overachieving parents. We’re encouraged to surround our children with books to ensure their success in life. Moms are having children’s book showers while their little ones are still in utero and asking for books at every birthday.
Books are the engines of change, windows on the world, ‘lighthouses’ (as the poet said) ‘erected in the sea of time.’ They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.” – Barbara Tuchman
I come from a long line of book lovers and reading has been a favorite pastime of mine for as long as I remember. My mom began reading classic chapter books aloud to me and my siblings when we were just a few years old and by my pre-teen years I was speeding through an entire series of books in a single summer. I chose our first homeschool curriculum based on my love of books and desire to inspire a love of books in my children. We dedicate time each day to read aloud as a family and cherish the memories of all the stories we have read. Why in the world would I ever want to reduce the number of books in my home?
All books are not created equal.
Charlotte Mason inspired an educational method grounded in a belief that we must educate the whole child, not just the mind. One of the most well-known tenets of the Charlotte Mason method is the use of “living books” to teach students instead of textbooks that presented dry facts. Living books are usually written in narrative or story form by one author who has a passion for his topic. A living book makes the subject come alive, is well-written and doesn’t talk down to the child.
I recently attended a homeschool conference and heard homeschooling mom and founder of Simply Charlotte Mason founder Sonya Shafer speak on the importance of choosing quality books to keep in our homes and how to choose books like a connoisseur. It can be challenging to judge the quality of a children’s book at first glance, but it’s a wise investment to screen books before they enter our homes.
Our eclectic book collection grew from nothing to nearly 100 children’s books in just a few short years. Many books were gifts, many were purchased from library book sales or secondhand shops and some were purchased intentionally for a specific reason. Whatever the source, I kept adding to our bookshelves without regard for quality writing or worthy ideas.
Among the wonderful rhythms and rhymes of Dr. Suess, Sandra Boynton, Lucy Cousins, and Liesbet Slegers, we had so many duds. These poorly written, sad excuses for books with pointless stories made me cringe every time I read them, yet I was reluctant to let them go because books are books and books are good, right?
Let go of any guilt and say goodbye to books.
Once I realized that we needed to declutter our kids’ books in the same way I was decluttering the rest of my home, I realized that by focusing on quality and not quantity, I was giving an even greater gift to my children. Books are wonderful and can provide the foundation for a lifelong love of learning and dreaming, but books by themselves will not change the world. Limiting our book collection to living books, the ones that spark joy and inspire the imagination, would not limit my children’s educational potential as I had once feared. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
I collected all of the children’s books in our house and piled them in one location to begin sorting. I started by asking my three year old “Does it spark joy?” and no surprise, her answer to most books was a “yes.” We were able to discard a few books during this step, but the real work happened when I set out a few guidelines. Just as I needed some boundaries for decluttering toys, I defined some boundaries for books that needed to be discarded.
Some of my boundaries were:
- No books with grammar or punctuation errors
- No books with licensed characters
- No books without a story (such as many baby books i.e. “1-2-3” or “A-B-C” books)
- No books with questionable moral nuances I wasn’t prepared to explain at this age (i.e. Hansel & Gretel whose dad leaves them in the woods to starve to death)
- No books that annoyed me (If I have to read them, I might as well enjoy them!)
There are a few beloved books in our house and those books were kept without regard to the rules, which means we do have a few books with Disney princesses, but we won’t be adding any more rule-breakers to our collection.
When it comes to books, you can never have too much of a good thing. Or can you?
In “Simplicity Parenting”, author Kim John Payne makes the argument that less is more, even when it comes to books. Have you ever noticed that children can listen to the same story over and over (and over!) without ever tiring of it? Each reading of the story speaks to a child in a new way, and Payne affirms that “kids need the time to read deeply, and often repeatedly.”
He advises that children should have just a few favorite books available to read at a time. Other books can be kept in a “library” to rotate out the books once they have been thoroughly enjoyed.
The thought of allowing children access to only a few books at a time is so contrary to popular opinion, but it has worked exceptionally well for our family. My three year old keeps four to six books on her nightstand at a time and my 14 month old has a small collection of board books on a shelf in our homeschool room. These books are read, re-read, loved, cherished, yearned for, read again, acted out, talked about, and read some more for a week or two and then put away until another time. It’s a delightful cycle to be able to experience such joy in our books now.
We store our out-of-use books in my kids’ closet on a small three-shelf bookcase. We have about 30 books in our “library” that we use to rotate whenever it feels like we need to read something new.
In addition to our book collection, we regularly visit the public library to supplement our reading. We have a dedicated shelf in our homeschool room to house the 5-10 books a week we check out from the library.
It is not enough for us to give our children books. We must take on the responsibility of curating a worthy book collection, investing time into reading with our children day after day, and continually inspiring their expanding minds and imaginations with great literature.